Several years ago, I saw a couple whose marriage was over. At least, they thought it was over. Years of neglect and unresolved conflict had sucked all the intimacy out of their relationship. Both of them were Christians who attended church regularly with their two children. But their faith was weak, and they believed that even God couldn’t save their marriage and help them to grow closer.
Like many couples I’ve seen, they came in only so they could say they’d tried counseling and it didn’t work. Then they could rationalize that divorce was their only option. In essence, my office was the last stop before the attorneys and the divorce court.
Closer to Divorce Than Reconciling
In that first session, they told me their sad story. The husband was a selfish workaholic who had ignored his wife and kids. He stopped expressing love for her years ago. The only time he paid any attention to her at all was when he wanted sex.
The wife was a terrible housekeeper and spent too much money. She was a world-class nag and had harped at him for years about his shortcomings. Her desperate desire to be loved and feel closer to him was covered over by a hard shell of critical indifference. Her life revolved around her kids, the PTA, and church activities. She had been deeply wounded by her husband. She couldn’t see any way that they could possibly grow closer again. Nor could she believe she could ever love him again.
They finished their prepared statements and waited patiently for me to speak. They wanted a doctor to declare that their marriage was dead. They were disappointed. I told them what I tell every couple who comes to see me: “It’s not over. It doesn’t have to be over, no matter how bad things look and feel. With hard work and God’s help, you can love each other again. In fact, you can build a new marriage and a closer relationship that will be everything God intended it to be.”
They didn’t exactly jump up and shout: “Yeah! We can do it! Thanks for that shot in the arm!” They just sat there, staring at me in silence. Then they looked at each other, as if to say: “This guy just doesn’t get it, does he?”
I ended the session by going over the step-by-step approach I planned to take in their marriage therapy. I asked them to spend the next week thinking, praying, and soul-searching about their marriage. They scheduled another appointment for the following week. And then they slowly shuffled out of my office. I admit, their situation looked grim, and I prayed that God would perform a miracle.
A Surprising Change
The next week, I watched this same couple drive into my parking lot and stroll down the walkway to my office. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were holding hands, smiling, and laughing—just as couples do when they’re in love. As they came into my office and sat down on the couch, I said: “I don’t know who you two are, but what have you done with the Smiths?”
They looked at each other in a knowing way and then told me an incredible story. They said they’d gone home after the previous week’s session ready to end their marriage. After three days of silence, the husband suddenly asked his wife to pray with him. He told her he was desperate, and the only option left was to turn to God. And so they prayed. And prayed. And prayed.
For three solid hours, they cried out to God on their knees in their bedroom. They confessed their relationship sins and repented of the many things they’d done to hurt each other. They admitted their resentments and gave them all to God. Through tears, they asked for forgiveness—from God and from each other.
Hopeful and Closer
And, they told me, after those three hours of prayer, something amazing happened. Forgiveness and healing happened. They felt cleansed. They felt hopeful and closer to each other. And they felt passion and love for each other for the first time in years. With God’s help, they knew they really could start over.
To be sure, this couple still had hard work to do in therapy. We spent several months clearing away old debris and building a new marriage. But their prayer marathon was the beginning of their journey. They now had God’s help to apply the relationship principles I taught them. They determined to continue praying together regularly. No doubt because of that commitment, they are still together, closer to each other than ever than they ever thought possible, and still have a great marriage.
What happened to this couple was, indeed, a miracle. Their story illustrates the dramatic power of prayer. The same miraculous intervention can happen for you and your marriage partner. You may not be in such a crisis situation, but prayer will create wonderful results no matter what condition your marriage is in. Every time you pray as a couple, it’s a miracle. Think about it. The two of you are actually talking to the God of the universe! Jesus Christ is there with you in a personal, closer way, and the Holy Spirit is also present.
I have one word for you: pray. Actually, two words: pray together. Okay, make it three words: pray together regularly. Praying together regularly will improve every single area of your relationship. Because when you pray, the three members of the Godhead are with you!
I recommend that every married couple set aside twenty to thirty minutes every day for face-to-face, no-distractions-allowed talk time. But just carving out the time isn’t enough. If you want great conversations, with Jesus helping you open up, pray before you talk. Even a few short minutes of prayer is a great way to jump-start conversation.
You know how difficult it can be to start a conversation. There you are, just the two of you, staring at each other. You can hear the hum of the refrigerator and the drip of the kitchen faucet as you search for something to say. How do you shift gears from the hassles of the day—work, kids, home maintenance, bills—to a time of sharing and dialogue? How do you slip past your male-female differences? How do you get a conversation off the ground?
Closer Through Prayer
The answer is, you pray together first. It’s the perfect ice-breaker. When you start a conversation with prayer, it gets you both in the mood to communicate. You are automatically on a deeper level. So when you start talking, you’re already beneath the superficial surface. You’re warmed up. You’re closer to each other, and more open, and more vulnerable.
During prayer, it’s often easier to open up and share personally. It can be extremely difficult, especially for a man, to reveal something personal directly to our wife. I mean, she’s sitting there staring at you! There’s nowhere to hide! Will she laugh? Worse yet, will she ask a million questions and want you to probe even deeper?
For us men, it’s often easier to express something personal in a pre-talk prayer. Our eyes are closed. More importantly, our wife’s eyes are closed. She can’t give an immediate reaction because it’s rude to interrupt someone who is praying. We can collect our thoughts and feelings and express them in a more controlled, less pressured situation.
Half the battle for guys is just getting something personal out of our mouths. Prayer will help get it out. Later, in the talk time, we can go into more detail about what we mentioned in prayer. Eventually, we’ll be able to directly tell our wife what’s inside.
God Draws You Closer Through Prayer
When you pray before you talk, God reaches out and deepens your level of conversation. He looks down from heaven and sees you praying—actually, through Christ, He’s there with you on the couch. And He says: “I like this. I like this a lot. And I’m going to help these children of mine communicate; plus I’m going to help them develop more intimacy.”
I’m convinced this is what happens. God is so pleased that you include Him in your talk time that He blesses you with intimacy. He just gives it to you, because you have honored Him and drawn closer to Him.
When you’re dealing with a conflict and feelings of anger are running high, prayer is especially important. I realize that when you’re angry, praying is the last thing you want to do. But it ought to be the first thing you do. God wants to help you and your spouse through the conflict and be closer at the end. But you’ve got to involve Him. Without His help, a lot of things can and will go wrong in an argument.
I urge you to pray together briefly before you begin talking through a problem. And, of course, avoid using prayer to take potshots at your partner: “Dear Lord, help Patty with her temper; she can be so mean and petty.” Or, “God, please change Laura’s heart and show her how misguided she is.” Pray for God to be with you as you resolve the conflict, to give you the ability to understand your partner’s point of view, to accept and care about her feelings, and to be open to compromise.
Pray before an argument: “God, help us to work through this in a healthy, constructive way.” Pray during an argument, when you are taking a break: “God, give us guidance and perseverance to truly resolve this.” Pray after the argument: “Dear Father, thank you for being with us.” With God’s presence and assistance, you can fight fairly and settle any disputes.
I know this next suggestion may strike some people as odd, but taking a few minutes to pray before sex can make the experience much more passionate and fulfilling. God invented sex and He wants married couples to enjoy sexual intimacy, and draw closer together. Why not ask for His help and blessing? Prayer is great preparation for sexual intimacy. You’re already emotionally connected on a deeper level, since prayer has a way of binding two hearts together.
A word of caution to men:
Don’t use prayer as a way to get sex. Believe me, your wife will catch on. Rather, lead her in prayer on a regular basis, and good sex will be a nice side effect.
No matter what you do as a couple, you want God along, don’t you? God wants to be involved in your every activity. When you take a few minutes to pray and invite Him along, you’ll sense His presence. Whatever you’re doing will go better. It’s particularly important to pray before an activity that will be difficult, painful, or challenging. Life is full of experiences like these. Don’t face them without God.
Whatever the circumstances of your marriage—whether you’re trying to overcome some problems or simply seeking to improve an already healthy relationship—prayer will foster deeper intimacy and protect you from the enemy’s attacks.
Protection Through Prayer
In Ephesians 6:18, Paul instructs us to “pray at all times” (NIV). I believe this applies not just to individual Christians, but to married couples who love the Lord Jesus Christ and seek His protection from the devil. Satan would like nothing more than for you to have a stale, lackluster, lifeless marriage. He never stops trying to cripple and destroy your relationship. When you and your spouse make prayer a regular part of your life, you establish a shield around you. What’s more, you tap into the power of God, which helps to fuse you together as a couple.
This article comes from the book, A Marriage After God’s Own Heart. It is written by Dr David Clarke who is a popular speaker and the author of I Don’t Love You Anymore, Winning the Parenting War, and Men Are Clams, Women Are Crowbars. Dr Clarke is a Christian psychologist with a private practice. He holds a master’s degree in biblical studies from Dallas Seminary and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Western Seminary. David lives with his wife, Sandy, and their 4 children in Tampa, FL.